Publisher: SNK (1993)
Samurai Shodown begins with a scene of a samurai meditating between two statues. The screen briefly goes black, during which two bright slashes are seen. Next you see the samurai brandishing his sword as the two statues slide off their bases, having been slashed in half. As the scene slowly fades out, your eye catches the enormous tree behind him also
sliding away! It's one of the best video game intros I've ever seen, if not the
best. Samurai Shodown's brand of one-on-one fighting action follows the basic Street Fighter 2 format, but its characters are armed with weapons like swords and maces. Smooth scaling effects are used to zoom in and out depending on the fighters' proximity. Most stages also feature objects you can destroy in the foreground, sometimes revealing a bonus or power-up. As with most SNK fighters, the quality is exceptional. There are twelve colorful martial artists to choose from, including several in traditional samurai garb, a behemoth named Earthquake, a green hunchback named Genan, and the ninja Hanzo. The females are represented by a knight named Charlotte and a little girl named Nakoruru who has a pet eagle. Most stage locations feature traditional Japanese landscapes with tranquil temples, orange sunsets, and quaint cottages. In one memorable stage waves crash into the shore as Mount Fuji looms in the distance. The shipping dock stage is crowded with rowdy spectators, and I like how you can slice open barrels to send apples tumbling. If Samurai Shodown seems a bit slow, it's not your imagination. The control scheme uses button combinations to perform strong kicks and punches, which is a bit awkward. I had some difficulty executing the special moves, mainly because you're required to press the button after
your sweeping motion - not at the tail end of it. Samurai Shodown shows its age, but it set the stage for a long-running franchise that continues to this day. NOTE: In Japan, this series was known as Samurai Spirits. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Normal
Our high score: 43,870
1 or 2 players
Samurai Shodown 2
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Samurai Shodown II begins with this profound text: "Long long ago, there were a man who try to make his skill ultimate. Because of his bloody life, it's no accident he was involved in the troubles." Nothing spices up a classic game more than a really bad Japanese-to-English translation! Grammar nonwithstanding, Samurai Shodown II (SS2) represents a substantial leap forward for the series, and it's probably my personal favorite. SS2 is much faster than the original and the controls have been tightened up considerably. The overhauled roster boasts twelve diverse fighters include a cave girl named Cham Cham, a tiny Asian man named Caffeine Nicotine (really!), and a heavy-set dude named Wan Fu wielding a stone pillar. All of the stages are picturesque, but some are more interesting than others. The wheat field is pretty boring, but the snowy village is beautiful and the stormy throne room is exciting. SS2 expands the number of attacks, and each character can now dash, jump back, and roll. The battles are intense. Weapon lock-ups (resolved via button-mashing) can result in losing your weapon, forcing you to fight with your bare hands until you can retrieve it. When your rage gauge is full, button combos are actually indicated on the bottom of the screen - a nice touch. SS2 is tough and addictive. There are a lot of amusing little intros and endings, such as a group of women who chase Ukyo off the screen after his victory. Unfortunately, those forced to play in the USA mode will be subjected to some awful-looking green "blood". The audio features great music and crystal clear Japanese voice samples. Samurai Shodown 2 builds on the foundation of the original title to create one of the definitive fighters for the system. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Normal
Our high score: 26,660
1 or 2 players
Samurai Shodown 3
Publisher: SNK (1996)
In the days of ancient Japan when samurai and ninja fought openly in public, little did they suspect they were providing rich material for the electronic entertainment of the future. As the third edition of SNK's epic sword-fest, Samurai Shodown 3 (SS3) takes the series to the next level with even faster action and a more complex fighting system. You can select between two fighting styles for each character, each with an extensive set of moves. You'll also select from three "grades" which tailor the action to your level of expertise. The basic controls have been revamped, so the four buttons now map to three slashes and one kick. Button combinations yield a dodge maneuver and a very useful "turn" that lets you attack your opponent from behind. The controls are extremely responsive and the action is frantic. Attacks tend to incur less damage and the clock runs faster, creating a sense of tension. The cast has been drastically overhauled once again. Of the new faces, Basara is an executioner who looks like the zombie from Darkstalkers. The hulking Gaira reminds me of E. Honda (of Street Fighter 2), and Shiro is a magician wielding a crystal ball. I didn't find this new group quite as compelling as the previous one, and it's a shame Earthquake didn't make the cut. SS3's background graphics and music seem a bit more conservative this time around, offering serene natural scenes like a green bamboo forest, a waterfall, and an orchard of pink trees. I like how the color schemes tend to change between rounds. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as SS2, but Samurai Shodown 3's added depth will give fighting game aficionados plenty to sink their teeth into. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Normal
Our high score: 95,100
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1992)
Sengoku gets my vote for "video game most likely to cause carpal tunnel syndrome". It's a button masher that goes on and on - far longer than my
attention span. It's a side-scrolling fighter with jaw-dropping graphics but repetitive gameplay. The two playable characters look ridiculous. One is an Asian guy with sunglasses, a red jacket, and yellow pants, and the other guy wears a cowboy hat, a light blue vest, and purple pants. C'mon now! The only possible explanation is that SNK was trying to show off the system's extensive color palette. The stages are bizarre and the scenery is constantly changing. One minute you're fighting in the streets, and then you're whisked off to another dimension, battling an army in the clouds. Most of the enemies look like ancient Asian warriors, but there are some huge, ugly monstrosities as well. I love how you can watch certain enemies approach from the background, thanks to some nice scaling effects. Three buttons are used in this game: attack, jump, and transform. By defeating certain enemies, you gain the power to transform into different characters, including a samurai warrior, a ninja, or vicious dog. The game is loaded with power-up orbs that provide each fighter with unique special attacks like weapons and fireballs. I especially like how the dog can spits out tiny dogs that chomp on the enemies' legs. For the first few minutes of play, I thought Sengoku was awesome. I couldn't get enough of all that kicking, punching, and slashing action. But you can only fight the same thugs so many times, and my wrist starting hurting from continuously tapping the attack button! I suppose the real
culprit is the unlimited
continues - always a bad idea in this kind of game. It effectively removes any sense of challenge and tension, and they're awfully hard to resist. Sengoku had two sequels. This one's a wild ride, but you'll probably get sick like I did. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1993)
Wow - this is a seriously fun side-scrolling hack-n-slash game! Sengoku 2's background story involves some epic confrontation with a demonic warlord, but you'll need to be a speed-reader to keep up with the intro text. Two people can play at once, and each player can switch between four
identities on the fly (including animals). Each identity is a unique character with its own attributes, weapons, and techniques. The action is fast and furious, and there's never a hint of slowdown. A fine control scheme provides plenty of attacks, and well as letting you block and transform. Thanks to cool power-ups and diverse enemies, the action never gets stale or repetitive. Although most enemies are samurai-inspired, there's always something new lurking around each corner, including a few horseback-riding stages. Some the bosses, like the giant skeleton at sea, are absolutely jaw-dropping. But what really impressed me is Sengoku 2's attention to detail. Enemies keel over dramatically as they are sliced in half. Swords clash and lock against each other. Dragons fly in the background as crowds of people run in fear. Although the game is a CD, the loading times are not bad at all. On the downside, the two-player mode is pretty easy, and enemies tend to linger slightly off screen. But overall Sengoku 2 is terrific and a big step up from the original. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Noise Factory (2001)
The Sengoku series pushed the limits of hack-n-slash fun with its huge characters, weird monsters, and colorful scenery. Sengoku 2 is regarded as the best of the series, but Sengoku 3 is no slouch either. Four huge playable characters include a pair of swordsmen, a hottie, and a big brawny dude with a bat. The controls are more robust than previous Sengoku titles, utilizing all four buttons. There are two attacks, a jump, and the fourth button tosses projectiles when available. You can even unleash different types of Ninjitsu magic when your meter is full. Three selectable stages include China, Italy, and Tokyo. Frankly I didn't find China and Italy to be very exciting; they're mainly just a series of streets and storefronts. The Tokyo-at-night stage is pretty awesome though. That vivid skyline in the background exudes a "let's go wild and kick some ass on a Friday night" vibe. Good stuff! The difficulty is fair, and the five continues are just about right. Sengoku 3 won't blow you away, but those who can appreciate a quality side-scroller are in for a treat. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): with continues
Our high score: 256,604
1 or 2 players
Shock Troopers (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1997)
If you're in the mood to inflict massive destruction for no particular reason, Shock Troopers is just what the doctor ordered. This one-man-army shoot-a-thon is like a top-down Metal Slug, although classics gamers will see shades of Rambo (Sega Master System, 1986), Ikari Warriors (NES, 1986), and Mercs (Genesis, 1991). You'll mow down waves of generic soldiers as you forge through jungle, mountain, and valley locations. The violence is very gratifying as you toss grenades into bunkers, incinerate enemies with flamethrowers, explode helicopters with missile launchers, and engage in high-speed motorcycle shoot-outs. It's especially satisfying to watch guard towers and concrete bridges explode and collapse into rubble. Shock Troopers has a slick rapid-fire control scheme that lets you tap the button to spray or hold it down to strafe. It may sound shallow, but there's more to this game than meets the eye. When close to an enemy you will automatically perform a melee knife attack, and this can be used strategically. Knifed enemies usually drop food or bonus items, allowing you to replenish life and rack up big points. Although your soldier is slow, a useful evade button lets you roll under enemy fire. It's easy to forget about, but I'd advise keeping a finger on that button at all times. You get a generous supply of grenades as well, so apply them liberally to bosses. The scenery includes swamps, markets, caves, trains, and river boats. The locations are diverse and the level of detail is impressive, but there's nothing particularly memorable about them. Likewise the bosses are pretty unimaginative, usually assuming the form of giant tanks. The two-player cooperative action is a nice feature, but its slow-down is pronounced. Heck, I even noticed slow-down in the single-player mode. It may not quite be up to Metal Slug standards, but if you're in the mood to inflict unspeakable carnage, Shock Troopers is very, very good. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): normal w/ cnts
Our high score: 6,047,803
1 or 2 players
Shock Troopers: 2nd Squad (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1998)
The first Shock Troopers was a rip-roaring overhead shooter with a level of destruction on par with Metal Slug. This sequel however is surprisingly tame. Cast from a different mold than the original, Second Squad has its own quirky graphic style and some very questionable stage designs. Like the first game you select a soldier and blast your way through streets, air bases, ports, and even moving trains. The background graphics are the most compelling aspect of the game. The scenery is so detailed with rich textures that it almost looks digitized
at times. Likewise the explosions are some of the best I've seen in any video game. Sadly, the characters are rendered in a goofy cartoon style that clashes with the semi-realistic scenery. Not only does your soldier look like a dork, but enemies look like a bunch of bumbling buffoons as well. Shooting them results in silly animations that will have you longing for the splattering of blood. The stage designs are lacking. In the first game you were constantly forging ahead, but here you tend to remain in one area as enemies are air-dropped all around you. Since you're constantly finding yourself completely surrounded, the evade button is your one saving grace. Sadly, it is assigned to the C button which is less-than-optimal. Another problem is the extreme slow-down, and we're talking about the single-player
mode. Don't even think
about playing this with two players. Shock Troopers 2 has some sharp-looking set pieces but if you're a fan of the first game this sequel is bound to disappoint. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 474,000
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1991)
With Soccer Brawl, SNK was clearly trying to create a turbo-charged, futuristic version of the sport along the lines of Super Baseball 2020. They were not completely successful. The teams are comprised of seven armor-plated players, each with their own "attack capabilities". The action is fast paced, but the controls are lacking. Two buttons are used to perform all of the moves (including attacks), which is very confusing. Powering-up players is no problem (hold down A), but the attacks are not the least bit satisfying. In addition, it's impossible to "head" the ball with precision. Your viewing angle is fairly close, so by the time you get the ball in proximity of the goal, the goalie pounces on it. Shooting from a distance is also problematic since your limited perspective prevents you from knowing where the goal is with respect to your man. You can only shoot from three angles, although walls that enclose the course do provide carom opportunities. These walls are great in concept, but inexplicably there's still an "out of bounds" zone in front of them. What's up with that? Predictably, the ball always winds up in that zone, resulting in constant throw-ins, and that truly sucks. Soccer Brawl's single redeeming feature is the two hot chicks displayed whenever a goal is scored. If anyone ever accused the VGC of being influenced by the inclusion of gratuitous, scantily clad babes in a game, well, they're right. But even that can't elevate Soccer Brawl above the average mark. The game is interesting in concept, but the execution is weak. © Copyright 2005 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1993)
This platformer has managed to remain under my radar for many years, but it currently ranks as my favorite
Neo Geo game! Spinmaster might be considered a blatant Metal Slug rip-off had it not been released three years before
that game! One or two players control a pair of cartoonish yo-yo-wielding bothers fighting their way through jungles, rivers, tombs, and castles. You'll embark on a wild riverboat stage and a fantastic high-speed mine cart ride. Unlike so many other platform games, your default yo-yo weapon is extremely effective, especially since you can throw it diagonally and in a rapid-fire manner. Other weapons include fireballs, bombs, and boxing gloves, but my personal favorite is the throwing stars. Spinmaster's sprites are absolutely huge
, but the on-screen chaos never feels overwhelming. Exotic layered backgrounds call to mind Indiana Jones, and the stages are short enough that they never wear out their welcome. Playing alongside a friend is especially fun. Although much of the game tends to move at a breakneck pace, you'll definitely want to take your time when it comes to the platform jumping. Spinmaster's difficulty is very fair, but you'll still find yourself wanting to use the continues. The game's musical score is so good that it sometimes reminded me of a Zelda game (high praise indeed). Coming off like an easier and more whimsical version of Metal Slug, Spinmaster is one Neo Geo title worth hunting down. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Saurus (1996)
I may not be a big horse racing fan, but I consider the triple crown to be one of the welcome signs of Spring. Most horse racing games tend to be overly complex or gambling-oriented, so Stakes Winner's simple arcade format is refreshing. The horses are cartoonish but the tracks are green and lush. You view the action from a raised side angle as if you were sitting in the grand stand. Conditions are usually bright and sunny, but sometimes they can be overcast or rainy. The controls are somewhat mysterious. You tap A to gallop at a steady pace and hit B to use your whip and pick up the pace. You can tap the stick forward twice to bump a horse ahead of you out of the way. It's possible to tap backwards to slow down, but I have no idea why anyone would want to do that. The races are pretty chaotic as the horses tend to crowd each other, and frankly it's hard to tell if your button tapping is having any impact at all. A close-up of your horses' face indicates his energy level, and apparently much of the strategy lies in pacing your horse correctly. The collision detection is a little fishy around the rail, so be careful not to get caught up on it. Your best shot at victory is to grab that cheap speed boost icon (wings) that often appears in the final stretch. Placing in the top three advances you to the next race, and each contest is unique in terms of track length and shape. Triumphant music and colorful victory screens do a great job of conveying the pomp and circumstance of the sport. Stakes Winner is a real conundrum of a game. I could never fully grasp the controls or strategy, yet I never get tired of trying to figure it out. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Normal
Our high score: SLN 580K
1 or 2 players
Stakes Winner 2 (MVS)
Publisher: Saurus (1996)
The original Stakes Winner was a unique horse-racing title that won me over with its arcade graphics and challenging gameplay. This sequel is much easier but a lot less compelling. In the original game I was lucky to win three straight races, but I can play Stakes Winner 2 almost indefinitely
. The sights and sounds of the game haven't changed much. The horses look slightly less cartoonish, but the tracks and viewing angles look pretty much the same. The soundtrack is basically remixed versions of the songs from the first game. The controls have been tweaked a bit, and a third button was added to kick in some extra energy down the stretch. Although the steering controls are inexact around the turns, you have pretty good control over the speed of your horse. Unfortunately, one serious problem from the first game has returned with a vengeance!
Cheap icons appear on the track at certain intervals, and more often than not they determine the outcome of the race. You may have paced yourself perfectly and jockeyed for position with precision, only to find yourself languishing in last place after running into a "paralyze" icon. These icons appear so suddenly that there's no time to avoid them, much less decide if you want them. Your best bet is to anticipate where the icons will appear on the track and try to avoid those spots. One thing I like about Stakes Winner 2 is the ability to select between U.S. or European tracks. The U.S. selection includes Belmont Park, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Pimlico in Baltimore. Between races you can purchase items from a store, including special moves that require special joystick manipulations (horse racing meets Street Fighter 2!) There are also four training "bonus" stages including one where you navigate through a swimming pool. I can appreciate the fact that Stake Winner 2 has more depth that the first game, but the low difficulty makes its racing much less satisfying. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Normal w/ cnts
Our high score: 1.5m
1 or 2 players
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Here's an awesome Neo Geo game you won't have to pay a fortune for. A 3-on-3 arcade-style basketball game, Street Hoop is cheap and readily available on CD. If you're familiar with Arch Rivals or NBA Jam, you'll feel right at home with Street Hoop. It's better looking that NBA Jam, with larger, more detailed players and animated urban backgrounds. The action is fast and furious, with flying elbows, backboard-bending jams, and even some trash talking. The simple, two-button control scheme is sweet, and there are no fouls or goal tending to slow things down. I especially love how you can knock down defenders while slamming a dunk. Unlike other sports games which drag on for too long, Street Hoop contests are surprisingly short. As a matter of fact, this is the first sports game that my friends complained about being too
short! The thumping hip-hop music is outstanding, and my friend Scott can't stop singing "Standin' on the black top pickin' our teams". One weak link is the announcer, who yells nonsense like "dunk shot!" and "upset!" at inappropriate times. The game takes a while to load initially, but once it's running, there are minimal pauses in the action. Street Hoop delivers pure arcade fun, and it's an under-rated title in the Neo Geo library. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Strikers 1945 Plus (MVS)
Publisher: Psikyo (1999)
This is one of those "twitch shooters" the Neo Geo is known for - and it's a good one. Strikers 1945 Plus maintains a heightened level of rapid-fire mayhem without the slow-down associated with many vertical shooters. The intro features a jaw-dropping digitized sequence of six planes flying over a mountain landscape. The actual game maintains a similar level of realism, with nearly photo-realistic scenery and fantastic explosions. You select between one of six WWII-era planes loaded to the hilt with weapons. As you fly over railroads, harbors, and snow-covered fortresses you're confronted with waves of planes and tanks. Your cannons administer a world of hurt and frequent power-ups let you unleash a torrent of missiles. Holding in the fire button allows you to deploy a special weapon such as a magnetic field that slowly crawls up the screen while leaving devastation in its wake. You'll face waves of criss-crossing bullets but they move slowly so there's always an escape route. Just hang back and try to maintain your composure. Strikers does get a little insane in the later stages, so you'll want to save a few bombs to use as a defensive mechanism. I'm glad unlimited continues are available, because otherwise I would have never seen the end of the game. Another neat feature is how you start on a different stage depending on which plane you select. Strikers is a blast to play but don't expect much variety. The static scenery is somewhat bland and enemies are mainly limited to planes and tanks. Pretty much every boss is a flying robot that emerges from the rubble of an oversized vehicle. The military-style music is appropriate but not particularly memorable. Some may find Strikers 1945 a bit repetitious, but if you like arcade shooters this one really hits the sweet spot. Note: I played this using an MVS converter. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.
Our high score: 137,500
1 or 2 players
Super Baseball 2020
Publisher: SNK (1991)
Oh yeah! This is what Neo Geo gaming is all about! Unlike real baseball (which sucks), this futuristic take on the sport is fast, fun, and unpredictable. The graphics are sensational, with humorously animated robots and a spectacular stadium loaded with electronic gadgets and TV monitors. There's a "foul zone" behind home plate and a "home run zone" behind center field, but everywhere else is fair play! When a ball enters the stands, its rolls down onto the field, still alive! There are even "jump zones" that let your fielders leap high into the air to snag would-be homers. I just wish there were more opportunities to use these things! The field contains a number of hazards as well. The first time the game announced it was "setting crackers" between innings, I thought it was complaining about white people, but then I realized that "crackers" are really mines. As the game progresses, more and more of these mines are scattered around the field. Like SNK's excellent Baseball Stars line of games, the pitching and batting controls are easy and intuitive. The computer positions you fielders automatically, which is good because it's hard to track them when the ball is hit to the outfield. Fielding is the main flaw of Super Baseball 2020 - it's tough and judging fly balls is nearly impossible. Super Baseball 2020 is ideal for people with short attention spans, because the action never lets up. Close plays at the bases are enhanced by cool close-up cut scenes. The teams are a collection of men, women and robots, and you can "power-up" players with money you accumulate during the game, which adds a nice element of strategy. The CPU opponent is pretty slick, especially on the base paths, but Super Baseball 2020 is best played against a friend. This is the perfect antidote to gamers who can't stomach realistic baseball games. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Super Sidekicks 2
Publisher: SNK (1994)
Super Sidekicks 2 (SS2) is one of the most exciting soccer games ever. Want proof? Just look at scoreboard with the word "EXCITING" plastered over it in huge, colorful letters! The non-stop action is viewed from a raised angle on the sideline, and the games are short but sweet. The players are huge, and so detailed they almost look digitized. On offense, you can shoot, pass low, or pass high. Since your view of the field is somewhat narrow, your passes are usually "blind", but fortunately there's usually a teammate present to receive the ball. Shooting requires being quick on the trigger, as flashing prompts indicate the best opportunities to score. For exceptionally well-timed shots, the game cuts to a first-person perspective that lets you aim precisely, and it looks astonishingly good. On defense you can bump your opponent, slide tackle, or switch players. Selecting the correct player can be tricky however, and I hate how you relinquish control of your defender after a missed steal attempt. Once the ball gets in the vicinity of the goal, things really get crazy as you pound buttons in anticipation of rebound opportunities. The amazing digitized crowd chants rock
the stadium, adding to the sense of urgency. Goals and penalties are accompanied by brief cut scenes of players celebrating or complaining to referees. A few of these are unintentionally hilarious, like the one with the goalie continually pounding his fist into the ground. Easy to play and never boring, you don't need to be a soccer fan to enjoy Super Sidekicks 2. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Super Sidekicks 3: The Next Glory
Publisher: SNK (1995)
I don't know what the awkwardly-translated "next glory" is supposed to mean, but Super Sidekicks 3 (SS3) is pure arcade bliss. While not a giant leap from its predecessor, SS3 does address some key flaws. For one thing, the Neo Geo's scaling capabilities are put to good use as the camera automatically zooms in and out, providing a broad view of the field when you really need it. Unlike Sidekicks 2, you can actually see
who you're passing to much of the time. I also like how you no longer lose control of your defender after an unsuccessful steal attempt. There are plenty of unintentionally hilarious cut-scenes, including a few that border on homoerotic
. When two teammates are shown leaping towards each other, armed out-stretched and mouths open, it looks like they're about to make out
! In another scene, a player appears to be performing an obscene act
on the referee! Oh well, at least these provide for some good comic relief. Whether challenging a friend or competing against a field of CPU contenders, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining soccer title than Super Sidekicks 3. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
Super Spy is a first-person fighter similar to Crossed Swords, but it offers a modern spy scenario instead of medieval sword combat. Like Crossed Swords, the graphics are pleasing to the eye and the gameplay is immediately accessible and fun. Gameplay consists of a series of battles that occur as you move from room to room in a hijacked scientific facility. The first-person viewpoint is quite effective in battle, allowing you to punch, kick, stab, or shoot the villains that approach. These miscreants include ninjas, mad scientists, and huge musclemen. Judging by the sheer size of these characters, it's evident that no other console of the early-90's could have handled a game like this. Dodging and blocking allow you to avoid attacks and set up for counters. When you have ammo (always in short supply), shooting enemies is terrific fun, and you can explode barrels, rupture pipes, and break windows in the process. You'll also encounter friendly scientists who offer info, weapons, or health. Unfortunately, Super Spy is largely a one-trick pony with no scoring and unlimited continues, and the action gets awfully repetitious. It's quite original and worth playing thru once, but after that you probably won't want to look at it again for a long time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Alpha Denshi (1991)
It may not look spectacular, but Thrash Rally offers a nice change of pace from the one-on-one fighters that dominate the system. At its core, this is a simple overhead racer in the spirit of Auto Racing (Intellivision, 1980). The screen scrolls every which way as you adjust your direction to keep your car on the road. The cars are tiny, and the low-resolution visuals look like something from the Genesis. In addition to a selection of cars, you can drive a motorcycle, dune buggy, or a truck. The courses wind both on and off-road, and they tend to be ideal in length (read: short). You'll cruise through a number of scenic locations including Italy, Finland, and Kenya. It's fun to peel through shallow streams and jump over sand dunes. The screen zooms out a bit when you "catch air", giving the game a slight Bump N Jump (1982) flavor. You'll be tempted to slow down and gawk at the colorful scenery, but there's no time for that. There are plenty of cars on the road, but the weird collision detection will have you running over
more cars than you bump into. This glitch inadvertently makes the game more fun because it's easier to maintain your momentum. The controls take a while to get used to, and even on straightaways you'll find yourself making constant slight adjustments. Thrash Rally includes two modes: World Rally and Paris Dakar Rally. I became obsessed with the Dakar Rally which is one long track that's tough to finish before the timer expires. When I finally made it, there was exactly zero seconds
remaining! Thrash Rally may not be a showcase title for the Neo Geo, but it's certainly no slouch in the fun department. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Dakar
Our high score: 3'17"58
Publisher: SNK (1994)
I was hoping for a poor-man's Metal Slug, but Top Hunter is a different type of game. This whimsical side-scroller emphasizes hand-to-hand combat and features gorgeous arcade graphics. Your main attacks are punches and throws, but occasionally you'll find weapons and even commandeer robots. Grabbing and throwing bad guys might sound like fun, but once you use a gun in this game, you realize Top Hunter would have been much
more fun as a straight shooter. The screen has a foreground and background layer, and the C button lets you jump between them. The interactive scenery is rich with detail, but it can be hard to tell if an object is in the foreground or background. You and a friend can join forces to kick butt side by side, but as you might guess, the two-player action only adds to the confusion. The three lengthy stages are set in forest, fire, and ice environments. Each stage has a few lever mechanisms that activate traps or expose new areas. The best part of Top Hunter is definitely the graphics. Despite the cartoonish look of the characters, some of the huge monstrosities you encounter are truly astonishing in both size and detail (the giant snow monster in the ice stage comes to mind). Top Hunter has unlimited continues, but they can totally ruin the challenge and fun factor. If you have the discipline to limit your continues (or not use them), Top Hunter can be a good time. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: SNK (1990)
As you would expect, Top Players is an arcade style golf game, but the lousy user interface holds it back. The main screen lets you change your club, view the course, or consult your caddie before taking the shot. Too bad you never get a decent view of the course! You only see a small portion at a time (overhead only), and you need to scroll around to see the rest of it. Despite having a caddie, you'll need to change you club and adjust the direction of your swing before every shot. You aren't told the remaining distance to the hole, so you'll need to estimate. Man, don't you hate games that make you do math? Once you're ready to swing, you'll employ an overly simplistic, two-click swing meter with different regions indicating a straight hit, hook, or slice. The meter moves very slowly but I STILL found it difficult to keep the ball on the fairway. Putting is also an adventure. The ball always comes off the putter too hard - you'll need to tap the button rapidly to avoid over-hitting the ball. The golf ball is huge (looks more like a baseball), and the graphics are colorful but not very detailed. The water looks just awful. Lounge music plays throughout the game, and it got on my nerves. One or two players can compete in stroke, match, or Nassau games. But overall, Top Players Golf really doesn't deliver the playability you'd expect from a Neo Geo sports title. © Copyright 2002 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Sammy (1992)
The Neo Geo is not technically
capable of rendering real 3D graphics, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell when you witness Viewpoint's amazing textured visuals. As you fly a ship diagonally up a canal, cannons rise up from the ground, metallic creatures emerge from the sides, and floor tiles "flip" to create a dynamic obstacle course. I was pretty blown away by Viewpoint - until I remembered that its spiritual predecessor, Zaxxon, was released ten years
prior! One fundamental difference is that how you don't need to worry about adjusting your altitude in Viewpoint because your ship always floats just over the surface. Each canal features a dazzling array of robotic creatures including slinkies, land fish, spinning turtles, laser-shooting flowers, and giant crabs. The animation is smooth, and while slowdown does creep in occasionally, it's hardly a detriment. You can tap a button to fire rapidly, or hold it in to unleash a charged shot. Side-cannons triple your firepower and pressing B unleashes one of several special weapons. In this case, these weapons really are
special. The best is the "wall of flames" which marches up the screen and consumes everything in its path. It's probably the most effective and satisfying weapon I've ever used! The swarming homing missiles are also a visual treat. Some stages have interactive elements such as levers you need to shoot to open gates. Hazards can rise up from out of the ground and strike you from beneath, and they can seem pretty cheap if you aren't expecting them. In some sections medium-sized characters will linger around for too long, sometimes impervious to attack. Losing a ship sometimes means you'll need to repeat a long, tedious stretch, and that really sucks. This is a very difficult game, so there's no shame in playing the easy mode. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of beats with a few hip-hop samples tossed in. Viewpoint is a real Neo Geo standard that helped defined the system, so it's a fine addition to the collection if you can afford it. And despite its age, it's still more imaginative and visually appealing than most modern shooters. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.
Recommended variation(s): Easy
Our high score: 57,470
1 or 2 players
Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer (CD)
Publisher: Technos (1995)
This bizarre one-on-one fighter would be commendable on most systems, but for a system like the Neo Geo stocked with so many great fighters, this is just plain mediocre. The characters are completely over-the-top, bringing to mind the shape-shifting freaks of Darkstalkers. There's a guy with bat wings, a four-armed robot, a magician, a Captain America look-alike, and two scantily clad, long-legged females. The boss is a man and woman fused together to form one awesome warrior. Gowcaizer appears to use the same engine as Art of Fighting, with huge characters and a camera that zooms in and out. The controls are more like Fatal Fury, with two punch and two kick buttons. All the characters have crazy special attacks, many of which defy proper description. While some of these are somewhat amusing, they tend to make the fights overly chaotic and loaded with cheap hits. Shaia, for example, can sit back and continuously pound you from a distance with her remote ball. After winning a match, you can acquire one of your opponent's special moves which is displayed on the screen. The spectacular backgrounds are probably the highlight of the game, with marvelous unconventional scenery like a burning city, the interior of a church, and a concert stage. Although Gowcaizer's gameplay doesn't stand out, its music certainly does. That's because it feature real Japanese singing
, and while it seems funny at first, eventually the horrible noise becomes unbearable. Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer isn't particularly fun to play, but it certainly is bizarre. © Copyright 2004 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Data East (1994)
Every once in a while an oddball title will come out of left field and turn out to be a total blast. I picked up this Japanese CD for about 15 bucks (new), but it's probably the most intense head-to-head Neo Geo game I've ever played. Otherwise known as "Flying Power Disc", Windjammers is so simple and easy to play that you could almost consider it a glorified version of Pong. One competitor guards a goal on each side of the screen as players toss a Frisbee back and forth. Catching and returning the disc in one quick motion adds velocity, and executing Street Fighter-style "sweeps" causes the disc to curve. There are even a few "special moves", including some that set the disc on fire
. Windjammer's graphics are perfectly fine, but since the action is viewed from overhead, there's not much to see. Still, I love the court located on a bright beach, which gives the game a certain summer vibe. The other courts are more high-tech, including some with obstacles in the center that redirect the disc unpredictably. Windjammer's gameplay is fast and furious, with short but sweet 90-second matches. The electronic soundtrack has an old-school flair, and I also like the clanking sound effects of the disc bouncing off the metallic boundaries. As icing on the cake, a nifty bonus stage lets you control a dog chasing a Frisbee on a beach, jumping over sun-bathing babes in the process. My friends immediately took to Windjammers, unanimously proclaiming it to be an "A" title. My buddy Steve even called it "sponge-worthy", which is quite the accolade. Windjammers has remained under the radar for a long time, but I think it's about time for a coming-out party. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: Alpha Denshi (1992)
The intro to this game is hilarious, as some dude with spiky hair explains, "You came at the right time. Use the time machine to go all over the world. Where the strong people are. I pray for a healthy battle." You couldn't make up
stuff this funny! World Heroes is one of the many 2D fighting franchises spawned from Street Fighter 2, and it's damn good! Its innovative control scheme utilizes only three buttons: punch, kick, and throw. Tapping punch or kick initiates a quick attack, but holding the button down unleashes a stronger attack. Since throws are executed automatically when you attack at close range, I found the throw button to be somewhat unnecessary. There's no gore in World Heroes - only brief splashes of blood here and there. The one-on-one battles are fun, but the action is definitely slow compared to modern fighters. Some of the special move combinations are awkward, like right, down-left, down-right + A. Say what?
Of the eight characters, Hanzou and Fuuma are closely-matched marshal artists with different-colored hair (much like Ken and Ryu of Street Fighter 2). Dragon is a Bruce Lee clone and Brocken is a M. Bison (also from SF2) clone with extendable arms like Dhalsim (ummm... ditto!). Rasputin is a magician whose hands and feet become huge
when he attacks. Janne, the lone female entry, is a French fencer wearing far too much clothing in my opinion. Muscle Power (yes, that's his name) is an American wrestler clearly modeled after Hulk Hogan. The attractive but forgettable stage backdrops include a clock tower with stained glass windows, a circus, and the obligatory Japanese temple. The rooftop with the evening city skyline would have been great had it not been obfuscated by ugly caging. I tend to favor the Mount Fuji stage, because it has monkeys
sparring in the background, and I love me some monkeys!
World Heroes features two modes of play: normal and death match. The death match incorporates hazards like spiked walls and electrical beams, which add a new wrinkle to the mayhem. Although World Heroes does a lot right, the time travel theme gets lost in the noise, making this feel like any other fighting game. But it's on the Neo Geo, so you know it's good. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
Publisher: ADK (1993)
World Heroes 2 expands upon the first game with six new fighters (and stages), bringing the total to 14. The new additions are great, representing some of the more memorable characters in the series. There's a huge
football player named J. Max who rams opponents and throws ghostly footballs. Mudman is a masked medicine man who adds comic relief with his goofy antics. Captain Kidd is a traditional pirate, and Erick is an overweight Viking. Shura is a Thai kick-boxer, and the Japanese Ryoko represents the second female in the series. Some of the fun new stages include a pirate ship, a dark city street, and a treasure-filled cave. A skeleton sits atop a heap of gold coins in the treasure stage, and I love how his head rolls off after each match. The dark street stage has a lot of atmosphere with its neon lights, graffiti and lighted skyscrapers in the distance. The stages of the original characters have been revamped as well. The improved death match mode includes new hazards like circular saws running across the floor. This time both competitors share
a health meter, and it's possible to recover from knock-outs by tapping the buttons like mad. The controls in World Heroes 2 are identical to the first game, letting you deliver stronger blows by holding in the kick and punch buttons. One excellent new element is your ability to deflect
a projectile by guarding just before
it hits you. The difficulty seems a bit harder than the first game, probably due to improved AI. World Heroes 2 might seem a tad slow, but its over-the-top characters and colorful backdrops pack some serious entertainment value. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
World Heroes 2 Jet
Publisher: ADK (1994)
I have no idea what "Jet" means, but this third World Heroes game marks a bit of a departure for the series. Its normal and death match modes have been replaced with tournament and practice modes. The tournament mode pits you against a series of three-man teams over the course of five days. Each day features its own flashy backdrop loaded with throngs of spectators. I was very impressed by the elaborate introductions. Before the first battle, the camera pans over to a tall skyscraper in the distance, zooming in to reveal your fighter posing on the ledge - very cool. You only need to beat two of three opponents to advance to the next day, but it's hard
. After each set of matches, a nice break-down is displayed which even lists the "deciding move" for each match. Less impressive is the confusing new scoring system which serves up numbers like 62.4 - whatever that
means! The training mode is similar to the traditional "versus" mode, only there's no score. Jet adds two new characters to the mix, including a big Chinese dude and a punk rocker from the U.K. named Jack. Jack is pretty outrageous with his Freddy Krueger claws, and I really dig his foggy London rooftop stage. Unfortunately, the victory poses for both Jack and the magician Rasputin are totally gay
and seem very much out of character. As in previous games, holding in the punch or kick button longer enables more powerful blows, but tweaks the controls a bit. The throw button has been replaced by a useless "raz" button, but as before, you'll automatically throw when you punch (or kick) at close range. One tricky new move for experts is the "fake feint" which fools your opponent into thinking you're in a dizzy, vulnerable state. I found World Heroes 2 Jet far more compelling than the previous editions, mainly on the strength of its addictive tournament mode. The next (and final) entry in this fine series was World Heroes Perfect (ADK, 1995). Perfect is a rare title, so I'd recommend most gamers to invest in the excellent World Heroes Anthology (Playstation 2, 2008) instead. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
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Screen shots courtesy of NeoGeo.com